[Mass Text - Latin]
[Mass Text - English]
Please note that Friday is the
Commemoration of the Seven Sorrows of Mary. The Church has us recall her
sorrows just before Holy Week, so that we can recall her role as Co-redemptrix
with our Lord, Mediatrix of all grace. Please make the effort to attend the
Stations of the Cross and the Mass of our Lady.
Before I begin, let me mention that
I do not preach a sermon on Palm Sunday (next Sunday), and the reading of
the Epistle and Gospel will be in English. I would ask that you listen to
these readings, as well as to those on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, with
particular attention to the fact that on Holy Thursday our Lord gave us His
body and blood in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that this sacrifice
was effected on Good Friday. So, whenever we offer Holy Mass, we are
renewing the Sacrifice of Calvary. This is a reality which is often
played down in the modern Church.
It seems that every year since I
have been a priest, on Passion Sunday, there has been someone who tells me
that they have never seen the crucifix and the other images covered in
purple cloth—or at least someone who wants to know why they are covered.
So, I thought I'd beat whoever it is this year to the punch and explain why,
before I am asked.
The custom is quite ancient, going
back before the time crucifixes came to be used by Christians. You see, in
the very early days, right after the time of Christ, the cross still
represented the shameful death that the Romans would only sentence bad
people to endure—it evoked thoughts of murderers and robbers, and such
Only after a few centuries did the
cross become a symbol of Christ and His death and resurrection. And even
then, it would be a few more centuries before artisans would begin crafting
images of Jesus Himself to put on those crosses. Roman persecution insured
that the few things used by the Church for worship would be both plain and
portable. The early Christians didn't want to have to hide much when the
soldiers broke in.
But as Christianity became an
accepted part of the Empire, more elaborate and ornate accouterments were
added to the Church's worship. And for a fair period of time, the altar
cross used by Catholics was a plain cross, decorated with jewels to make it
attractive. And as you might expect, during the season of Lent, such a
display seemed out of place to many people. So the custom of covering the
cross, and later the other paintings or statues developed. Its purpose,
then, is to convey to us the somber tone appropriate to these last two weeks
of deep Lenten observance.
Even today, when crucifixes are
relatively plain, we retain the custom of veiling them as a reminder
that—especially at this time of year—our prayer ought to be more
introspective. By introspective I mean that, instead of looking around us,
and seeing images of our Lord and Lady and the Saints, we ought to try to
visualize them and their virtues in our minds. Instead of seeing a pretty
picture of our Lord, we are to recall what we know about Him, and try to
hold Him in our thoughts. In fact, we want to get beyond forming pictures
of them, to forming relationships with them. Jesus and Mary should be more
than pretty pictures or statues to us—and this introspective prayer or
meditation is the way we begin speaking personally with God; the way in
which we develop the inner focus and solitude that will enable us to hear
His response to our prayers.
Now, quite appropriately, in this
season of the Passion, our meditation ought to call to mind the Crucifixion
and Death of our Lord. And, if we want to develop a meditation on this, or
any other holy event, we might do so by asking ourselves the questions
traditionally asked by writers when they compose a story: Who, what, when,
where, why, how, and to what consequence? Let’s try that together, so that
you can see what I mean.
Who suffered? The Creator suffered
for the creature. The God who created us, suffered for us. Our Lord Jesus
Christ, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity painfully laid down His life
What did He suffer? He suffered
the painful agony of having nails pounded through his feet and wrists and
hanging on His agonized limbs for hours until he died by asphyxiation; too
weak to pull Himself up to draw another breath. He suffered a death so
terrible that just thinking about it in Gethsemane caused Him break out in a
sweat of blood.
Where and When did He suffer? He
suffered in Jerusalem, about 2000 years ago. But the philosopher Pascal,
suggested that because of mankind's continued sinning, “Our Lord Jesus
Christ will be in agony until the end of time”—something to think about when
we are tempted to sin.
Why did He suffer? He suffered
because His insignificant creatures had disobeyed their infinite Creator.
In justice, only God become man could satisfy for this infinite insult.
But, perhaps more important, He wanted to demonstrate not His justice, but
His love for us.
How did He suffer? He suffered at
the hands of His “chosen people,” who loudly demanded His crucifixion; and
He was put to death by the politicians and world leaders of His time.
To what consequence did He suffer?
By His suffering, our Lord re-opened the gates of heaven. From His Heart,
pierced with a lance, we have the torrent of sanctifying grace; that which
allows the life of God to live in our souls. And, hopefully, by His
suffering and our meditation on it, we can develop the true love of God and
a strong hatred for sin.
And, of course, no meditation on the
Crucifixion would be complete without remembering that in His suffering,
Jesus gave us Mary to be out Mother; to have compassion on us as she had
compassion on Him as she stood at the foot of the Cross; the perfect model
for wives and mothers and women dedicated to God whenever they undergo
This sort of meditation takes a
little bit more than just viewing a picture of a statue, or even than
reading from Sacred Scripture. But it is the way, and perhaps the only way
that we can actually form a relationship with almighty God. So, the
crucifix is veiled today in order to remind us that—particularly during
these next two weeks—we ought to turn our thoughts inward, and find Jesus
Christ in our hearts.